- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) A former motel handyman was convicted yesterday of the 1999 slayings of three Yosemite park tourists, a crime that shattered the serene image of one of America's most treasured spots.

Cary Stayner, 41, was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and a charge of kidnapping. He could face the death penalty because the jury found that the crimes were committed during other felonies, including burglary and attempted rape.

Defense attorneys had conceded that Stayner killed Carole Sund, 42, and her daughter, Juli, 15, both of Eureka, and Silvina Pelosso, 16, of Argentina, but they said he was insane and asked jurors to convict him of second-degree murder a verdict that would have prevented execution.

The three women had been staying at the rustic motel where Stayner worked as a handyman outside Yosemite National Park.

Their slayings in February 1999 went unsolved for almost six months until Stayner struck again, snatching Yosemite nature guide Joie Armstrong and beheading her near her cabin in the park.

He already is serving life in prison without chance of parole after pleading guilty in federal court to first-degree murder in Miss Armstrong's death.

"It's a vindication of our feeling that this definitely is a death penalty case and that it was a horrendous crime," Carole Carrington, the mother of Carole Sund, said after the verdict yesterday.

Stayner's attorneys plan to present an insanity defense to try to spare his life. Jurors have already heard extensive testimony from experts that Stayner was impaired by a medley of mental illness symptoms and a deformed brain. At this stage in the trial that evidence was used by the defense to show he didn't kill intentionally.

In the sanity phase, to begin Thursday, the defense will build on that foundation to try to prove that Stayner didn't know he was killing or didn't know it was wrong. If that strategy fails, a third phase of the trial will be held to determine whether he should be sent to death row.

Outside the courthouse yesterday, defense attorney Marcia Morrissey said the sanity phase was a "different ball game."

Prosecutor George Williamson has said Stayner's mental illness defense was an attempt to "blow smoke" and distract jurors from overwhelming evidence.

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